The Freshest Turkey In Brooklyn: Inside Bensonhurst’s Live Poultry Markets [Video]

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From a tiny shop on New Utrecht Avenue, right across the street from the now-shuttered Waldbaums supermarket, comes the unmistakeable squawking of live turkeys.

In Bensonhurst, there are three live poultry markets: the Chinese-owned H.K. Live Poultry (8165 New Utrecht Avenue), the halal Canola Live Poultry Market, and 27-year neighborhood fixture La Pera Bros. In addition to turkey — which are the biggest sellers before Thanksgiving — these chaotic shops sell quail, rabbit, ducks, squab (baby pigeons), eggs, and more.

The stores attract immigrant families of all stripes, which sometimes creates a language barrier. When we stopped by H.K. Live today, a 7-years-old came into the store with her father, who speaks Spanish. It took several minutes for her to work up the courage to approach the counter.

“We need half a turkey,” she told the butcher shyly.

Not speaking English — or Spanish — the shopkeeper attempted to converse with the girl in sign language, using a splitting hand motion to deduce what she meant by “half.”

Once he had figured out what she needed, the man behind the counter pulled a giant feathered beast from its cage, bound the bird’s legs, and tied it to a giant dangling scale — much to the wide-eyed girl’s horror/delight. Next, he disappeared into the back room with the bird, presumably to end the poor sucker’s life.

Much like in Queens, live poultry slaughter houses have been popping up in ethnic enclaves all across Brooklyn (a quick Google search turns up 15 borough-wide).

Many immigrant groups — hailing from places like Africa, China, the Middle East, and Central America — have brought with them the tradition of purchasing meat from live animal markets. There are live goat vendors in Queens catering to folks from Jamaica, Mali, and Guinea, several halal butcher shops in Brooklyn, at least two kosher live poultry houses in Williamsburg, and Spanish-speaking vendors peddling live rabbit and goat to Central Americans.

The shops are legal as long as they are not located too close to residential areas, and they are inspected four times a year by the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone at H.K. Live who could speak to us in English, but this lengthy New York Daily New article offers some background and insight into the practice.

Customers who flock to these shops say that freshly slaughtered meats taste better, and for some there is also religious significance. Halal and kosher butchers slaughter their stock with an extra sharp knife — and a blessing — to eliminate the animal’s suffering, while some Chinese rituals require the birds to be brought home with the heads still attached:

Some customers prefer live poultry markets because of cultural and religious reasons. For the Chinese, there must be a head attached to the bird for such traditional rites as the annual tomb-sweeping holiday in April, when they go to pay respects to their ancestors.

“When we slaughter the chickens, we use a very thin cut so the neck isn’t broken,” explained Wu. “If the neck is broken, customers will come back and ask for a new bird.”

Live turkeys at these markets will run you approximately $3.45/pound, and longtime customers swear by the product.

“The best thing about coming to a live poultry market, is not only seeing what you’re eating, but understanding that you are getting the best quality that there is,” Carlos Formisano, owner of La Pera, told News 12.

With Thanksgiving less than a day away, you can drop by the supermarket for the usual frozen Butterball or Bell and Evan’s, or find out what the hype is about and pick out a turkey at one of our neighborhood’s live poultry places.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    To boldly go…!

  • Heen

    Great video — but some constructive criticism: kill the music!

    • Rachel Silberstein

      Haha, fair enough.